Kazakh police detained dozens of people in the country’s largest city Almaty on Sunday (1 March), after the death of an imprisoned civil activist triggered anti-government rallies and diplomatic concerns.
AFP correspondents in Almaty saw around 40 people, including two journalists, detained by police close to the city hall, where two opposition groups had called anti-government rallies.
Elsewhere in the city, 26 members of Oyan Qazaqstan, one of the groups that organised the rally, were detained in the morning before they had a chance to reach the protest site, a member of the group told AFP.
The protests were called after Dulat Agadil, a prominent activist, died in detention in the Central Asian country’s capital, Nur-Sultan, on 24 February, hours after he was brought in by police on suspicion of violating the terms of his house arrest.
The United States and the United Kingdom expressed concern over his death, and a high-ranking official of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) called for a “prompt and public investigation into the circumstances.”
I am deeply concerned by the death of Kazakh civil society activist Dulat Agadil during custody in Nursultan. A prompt and public investigation into the circumstances of his death is needed.
— Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir (@ODIHRdirector) February 26, 2020
In a statement emailed to EURACTIV, the Kazakh authorities said that “a medical investigation concluded that the cause of death was an acute cardiovascular failure and found that there were no injuries on Mr Agadil’s body.”
Activists pointed to a video of Agadil’s bruised body circulating on social media and messaging apps as evidence that he had been beaten while in detention and did not die of heart failure as claimed by the authorities.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev personally denied the claims by saying that “I can fully assure people that, unfortunately, the activist Agadil passed away as a result of heart failure.”
Since his inauguration, Tokayev has been positioning Kazakhstan as the ‘hearing state’ and promised to reform the legislation on public assemblies, which has been the basis for the frequent crackdowns on citizen rallies.
However, the draft new law that has been released for public discussion has so far failed to satisfy civil society groups, who argue that it would only introduce additional restrictions.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]